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Emery’s Second Season

It eventually came down to the finest of margins.

Our last two matches in the Premier League and the Europa League final.

After more than fifty matches throughout the season, it boiled down to how we would perform in 270 minutes.

If we won all three?

It would mean a return to Champions League football at the first time of asking from Emery – and a big shiny European trophy to boot.

We would be competing in the summer for the European Super Cup, we would have banished our European hoodoo and announced our comeback to the big stage in the best possible way.

Instead, we were treated to an insipid 1-1 draw at home to Brighton, followed by a win over Burnley (too little, too late by this point) and then a calamitous performance in Baku where we were sent back to London with our tail between our legs by Chelsea.

From where we sit now, looking back, hindsight really does bring things into focus.

We could be remembering what constituted to be a wonderful season, culminating in a win over our London rivals on a European stage, lifting the Europa League.

We could be looking forward to a return of that famous Champions League anthem and more importantly, the extra clout and transfer budget that comes with inclusion of the European Cup.

Unai Emery would be looked upon as taking us in the right direction, instead of doubts on whether he is the right man for the job.

Never mind a little common sense – we missed out on all of the above because of our own failings!

It would be fantastic if everybody could take the equivalent of a mental cold shower, and look at things from a different perspective.

Yes, it is our own fault that we are in what is now a compromising position thanks to missing out on the Champions League.

However, have we not closed the gap?

Has Emery not made progress on where were when he took over – with largely the same squad that Arsene Wenger had?

 

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Woah there, gib me a shance!! 

 

We missed out on the top four by a solitary point. We missed out on the top3 by two points. Despite us picking up just one win on the home straight, we still only fell short by the finest of margins.

Jurgen Klopp, the buck-toothed, bespectacled coach heralded by all as a genius, finished in eighth spot in his first season.

Granted, he was then awarded a wad of cash to spend to revitalise his squad, but it shows what margins a new coach can bring. Klopp didn’t manage to do much in his first season, other than probably the most important factor – one that isn’t instantly tangible.

The roots of his tactics, his famous press, the demanding fitness ability that all players had to adhere to? That was instilled in that disappointing first season. The window of transition from where they were, to where they can now adapt their formation and tactics dynamically? That takes time.

Emery too, needs the time to ensure his tactics are bedded in. That press we saw in the games we flickered to life? The wins over Chelsea, spurs, United? That is what we can now expect next season, albeit a lot more frequently.

We dropped off constantly last season, our defence struggled to adapt to new instructions, plus last season began with two tough fixtures, which in turn put pressure on subsequent games.

Emery will be under no illusions regarding who he needs in and shipped out in order to strengthen and carry out his formulas into battle. The list will already be drawn up, and pre-season will see us again begin to hit the cardio emphatically in order to maintain the lung-bursting orders from Emery. The very same orders that will see us improve once again.

Our fanbase needs a dose of realism. Emery, nay, all coaches, need a window of time to instil their own virtues. Even the mightiest of oaks still need years to flower.

Yes, our transfer activity may not be as it should be for a club of our standing, but as we are self-sustaining, we can only spend what we make. We cleared around £40m last season?

Well, that’s how much we’ve got to work with.

Fear not though. Emery’s expertise will start to show next season. His excellent pedigree wasn’t obtained in a cereal packet, he earned it and if given time, he can show us how.

We have to support, rather than call into question everything.

At the end of the season, when the dust settles, let’s see where we are.

 

Unai Emery’s Ideals

Our opening two fixtures were not exactly great for the development of Unai Emery’s new regime.

Our first game saw us pitted against the Champions. This Manchester City team are pretty much unrivalled on the domestic scene, so any pointers would be hard to come by to gauge how much work Emery still had on his plate.

A comprehensive 2-0 win for Pep’s side was the fare served up at The Emirates, but there were a few shining lights amid the gloom of realism.

It is hard to swallow how much of a gap has developed between us and the standard required for lifting the league title, and City have taken that yardstick and ran with it. Despite this, we saw a debut from French youngster Matteo Guendouzi that showed his pre-season showings were the real deal.

The kid bought from Lorient was constantly hungry for the ball, despite the constant harassment from the City midfield. His range of passing is excellent, and he seems to be the box-to-box midfielder we have craved for some time – although it is early days.

It was clear that Guendouzi needed to start in the next game – away to Chelsea.

This match represented a real barometer for our side – and for Emery’s progress. Chelsea also had a new boss in Maurizio Sarri, and are a few rungs below City, which means they are within our reach.

The game was the literal embodiment of the old adage, ‘a game of two halves.’ The first half was gung-ho, an advertisement of all that makes the Premier League so entertaining. The second half was a dud, especially if you’re a Gooner.

Emery is attempting to instill a new method, new processes, new tactics into Arsenal. After years of the same menu, players are now being asked completely new things – and change, profound change, takes time.

So, is it fair to judge after this game? If we inspect the game, then the answers become apparent.

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Our new Spanish coach is a big fan of instigating plays from deep. From Cech – or Leno – to our defence, our deep midfielders, through to our two-layer attack. Movement is the oil in this particular engine, and if the right runs are made, then this tidal wave is hard to combat.

We saw this in our second goal, scored by Alex Iwobi. The move began from Cech, and involved ten of our eleven players. It was free-flowing and seemed improvised, but this was the product of intense training – something that players have already touched upon when asked about their season preparations.

It was great to see this come off, but we will suffer teething problems with this tactic. Starting from the back requires ball-playing defenders, and in Mustafi and Sokratis, we have some work to do.

Mustafi gets a lot of stick as his mistakes are normally rather high profile – the perfect evidence of this was his weak attempt to stop Alvaro Morata in his tracks before the Spaniard cut inside and fired their second goal.

However, his reactions are sharp, his tackling is normally rather good, and his strength in the air is more than good enough. If his decision-making was as good we wouldn’t have a dilemma, but it isn’t, and it’s the reason why the German suffers.

Then we have Sokratis. In all defensive attributes, he is more than adequate, and the ball may go past him, or the man – but never both. However, he looks like he has the pace of a glacier despite training showing he is one of our fastest, and so needs a rapid partner to mop up.

Also, both aren’t the greatest at passing out from the back – which is why this may become a real issue until December.

The first half saw us concede two, but we created a bagful of chances that on a normal day, our cutting-edge attack would put away. Our profligacy though, saw us waste the chance to go in leading at half time.

Emery is a contrasting figure from Wenger, and his half-time subbing of the ineffective Granit Xhaka was something we never saw from our former manager. The Swiss midfielder is another who gets the stick rather than the carrot from our fanbase, and Lucas Torreira replaced him.

Was he ineffective though? With Emery looking for the team to attack as one, Xhaka is integral, and why he continues to get chosen. Xhaka and his passing – still amongst the best in the League – is the link we require, and the perfect proof of this was our mystifying second half.

If the first half was steak, then the second half was a spam fritter.

We didn’t take the game to Chelsea, confident in the knowledge we could cut them in half when we wanted to. No, instead we soaked up pressure and wilted. We willed them to attack us, and when moves broke down, there was no more playing out from the back – because we had no one to light the flame. Guendouzi was again industrious, but Torreira is a conventional defensive type. With Ozil also off, we were the magician that had cut our assistant in half – but couldn’t remember how to put the two together.

Xhaka forgets to track runners, he rarely shows the endeavour to tackle, but when it comes to seamlessly knitting our play together, he is vital to our cause – and even more so now that Emery wants our eleven to act as a hive unit when in possession.

We left empty handed from the Bridge, but it was us shooting ourselves in the foot rather than being outgunned. We went to Chelsea and carved them open repeatedly in Emery’s second game.

Our defence though, were being opened up by simple balls over the top. Emery’s insistence on playing the highest line may work when we have all of our ducks in a row, but at the moment it is like a TK Maxx half price sale. It is unorganised, it is chaotic.

Our display – even in defence – will be enough against the majority of teams in the league. Throw in an acclimatised, battle-hardened Torreira and a more physical Guendouzi and we have a midfield ready to cover gaps and a defence with more Emery hours under their belts.

A lot of our issues will be resolved with a simple remedy of practice hours with Emery and his team of coaches. Practice makes perfect, and after ten games, we will have a far better idea of what makes the cut, and what needs lancing.

Two games, zero points. It wasn’t a good start, but Emery won’t be too concerned, after seeing his ideas start to bud.

We shouldn’t be either.

Can Aubameyang and Lacazette fit into the same side?

Arsene Wenger, toward the end of his tenure, mentioned on more than a few occasions that Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang likes to play on the left – and how it opens up possibilities of playing two up front with Alexandre Lacazette.

This possibility is an exciting one, but can both players create an explosive partnership?

Aubameyang and Lacazette as a partnership
Auba and Laca

Tactics have changed in the last couple of seasons, and this seismic shift in footballing thought has coincided with our slump in the Premier League. Last season saw us finish outside the top four and this season is yet another occasion when we’re left out in the cold when the European big boys arrange a meet.

Not all clubs have adapted to the change in formations and preferences, but these clubs have another gear, or a PlanB to fall back on when they find the going tough. With our attacking players, are they better suited to a two-pronged strike force?

The answer to this question lies in the styles and skills of our two strikers. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is amongst the best in Europe for goals per minute this season and was Bundesliga top scorer in a struggling Dortmund side last campaign.

Alexandre Lacazette has shown his pedigree with us and his prior exploits for Lyon were amongst the best in terms of goal amount not only in Ligue Un, but amongst the big leagues too.

Both players would get into the majority of the Euro giants squads, but do their styles lend themselves to a budding duo?

The answer is an emphatic yes.

Aubameyang – as Wenger went to great pains to highlight – is a pacy forward that likes to cut in as much as he likes to lurk on the shoulder of the last man. He was just at home out wide for his old club as he was in a central role, and his goal numbers back this up.

Auba’s goals in the last few games of the season also showed an intrinsic intuition to be in the right place at the right time in the box.

Lacazette is a bonafide Number9. His strength lies in his finishing, his ability to find space in the box and his awareness. With a foil alongside him, his talent for finding a spare yard could be made even more potent as another striker can take the heat away in terms of being shadowed.

The other thing to remember though, is the changes that will have to come with having both in the same side. While it wouldn’t be two strikers technically as Aubameyang could take one of the wide spots in our 4-2-3-1 makeup, it means one of our current incumbents would be dethroned somewhat.

Mesut Ozil is a mainstay and he would perhaps become even more lethal than he is now with two men to train his laser-vision onto. then there is Henrikh Mkhitaryan who would take up another.

Much will hinge on whoever comes in as Wenger’s replacement, but if they’re schooled in recent tactics, then two up top could be our way forward.

The main impact of choosing both in our eleven would fall on Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey.

Both midfielders are often deployed in our attacking quartet, nearly as often as they are in the engine room. With the success of Auba and Laca means that one would be hit in terms of starts, or first team regard. They would be demoted to an Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain role, 20-25 starts, but very much picking splinters out of their posterior from prolonged exposure to the subs bench.

The option for Lacazette and Aubameyang both starting is one that we have been crying out for for a while, and a season ago, if we were presented with the promise of both being in our team, we would have snapped it up.

Only time will tell if we do go ahead with this exciting prospect, or if either striker becomes second fiddle to the other as we maintain our current approach. Either way though, it’s a good option to have and our forward line is a healthy one right now.

Would you play both in the side? Would you have both as strikers? Leave your comments in the comments box below, and thanks for reading.

The Ox at Wing-Back

Published on Goonersphere. ​

New ideas bring new viewpoints. Standing in a different position gives a completely different look on proceedings, and this may just have happened in recent weeks for Arsenal – and certainly for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.


The stagnation of Arsenal looked to have taken root. Four consecutive away losses, of which we conceded three goals each time. A royal hammering at the hands of Bayern Munich. Falling away in the Premier League. The rot appeared to have gone all the way through the squad and there was no fight evident, there was no resistance. Only a meek surrender akin to an injured gazelle, too exhausted to keep running from the chasing predators. We were easy prey, rivals and smaller clubs taking advantage of an apparently stricken beast.

Arsene Wenger looked to be devoid of ideas, arms wide and raised in a desperate signal to the gods. His tried and trusted tactics were no longer up to scratch, they were in fact dragging the team down. The players also looked unable to find the extra gears they required to simply avoid defeat.

Wenger picked up the dice and threw. He opted to change formation and go with three central defenders at the back for the first time since 1997. On that occasion, we had Steve Bould, Tony Adams and Martin Keown in the team. Three of the hardest, most disciplined and organised defenders the Premier League has ever seen. This time though, we had Laurent Koscielny marshalling the errant Gabriel and the inexperienced Rob Holding.

The formation may have been branded as wholly new by all and sundry, but the only difference was it gave our fullbacks a bit more license to roam forward.

It also gave Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain a bit more responsibility – and he has taken it and run with it.















In the games it has been employed, we have looked more alive than in recent months and The Ox has been instrumental.

We were all aware of his attacking threat and his intent with the ball. We were also aware of his tendency to lose the ball as he takes on players. This season has seen a wiser Ox though, and his utilisation at central midfield earlier in the season saw him in a far more efficient light than in previous seasons.

It is his work in a wing-back role in this 3-5-2 that has been revolutionary though. Who knew that The Ox could double-task? He has been asked to patrol the right side of the pitch – both in defence and attack, and he has done so with zeal and merit.

He has changed games in attack as he searches for the early ball or to torment his opposing fullback. The Ox has enhanced his dribbling and he has lessened the wastefulness that has blighted his time an a Gunners shirt. He has improved his final ball and has made sure he has lifted his head up rather than ploughing on into blind corners. He has made the difference.

It is in defence though that he has proved his worth. He has been quite excellent in covering the defensive part of the field, he has helped out Gabriel in that part of the pitch in a massive way.

The Brazilian has come on leaps and bounds with the security offered by Chamberlain. The Ox’s reservoirs of stamina means he has been up and down his flank like a clock pendulum on meth amphetamine.

If this formation sticks and we adopt it, then The Ox will be as vital a player as any other on the field. His adaptability has seen him rise to the fore and this in turn may just get him the improved contract he desires – and now warrants.

tottenham Vs Arsenal – The NLD Preview

Kickoff – 1630 GMT

Not for quite some time have our neighbours gone into a North London Derby as such overwhelming favourites. 

It really is a good thing that form doesn’t apply in these fixtures. 

If it did, then tottenham would win handsomely and enjoy the superiority they currently enjoy in the Premiership table. Sitting in second spot and chasing Chelsea hard for the title, they have left Arsenal choking on their dust. The Gunners are sitting in sixth place and the gap of 14 points is a chasm and the biggest it has been in over two decades.

Arsene Wenger must set his team up accordingly. This may carry a whole heap of pressure, but it is also a great opportunity to win the last derby at White Hart Lane – a place which has been a happy hunting ground over the years.

Wenger will have to deal without Shkodran Mustafi again, but talismanic defender Laurent Koscielny has a “60% chance of playing” according to the Gunners boss in his last press conference. Arsenal’s hopes could well hinge on if Koscielny makes the team, but if he does, will Wenger continue with his recent experiment with 3 at the back?

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will be one who hopes so, as his performances have been excellent since the new formation has been implemented. The Ox was an unused sub in our last game, but could come straight back into the team. Theo Walcott or Hector Bellerin may be the men to make way. 

 Mauricio Pochettino is sweating on the fitness of Moussa Dembele, but if the Belgian misses out, then Eric Dier may come into the defensive midfield spot. Aside from Dembele and Danny Rose, spurs have a clean bill of health.

The title race may be filling the home side’s thoughts, but they won’t want to lose the last ever derby at their ground. They have recent derby results in their favour though, as Arsenal have one win in the last eight trips to White Hart Lane – which was in 2014. There may well be goals too, as despite the poor recent record, the Gunners have scored in 35 of their last 36 derby games. 

Arsenal players and Gooners know that if tottenham win, then for the first time in over 21 years they will finish above us. We cannot allow them this luxury. There are some stats worth remembering though.

This is Wengers 50th derby, and he has lost only seven so far. spurs have the only unbeaten home record left in the league, and have already amassed their best ever points total.  We meanwhile, have lost four of our last five away games and tottenham have won their last 8 league games. 

The man to watch out for? Christian Eriksen. He has been involved in 16 goals in his last 12 games, and the Dane is playing the best football of his career so far. Harry Kane – the mouth-breathing, non-annunciating goal-getter, has a great record against us too, so our newly-shaped defence must be drilled and prepped. 

It’s a good thing form doesn’t apply…….

Predicted Lineup – Cech, Gabriel, Koscielny, Holding, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Xhaka, Ramsey, Monreal, Ozil, Alexis, Giroud

Predicted Scoreline – 2-1 to The Arsenal. 

The Big-Man, Little-Man Combo Is Key For Giroud

There have been many partnerships where a difference in height has been at the fulcrum of their success.

Barker and Corbett. Owen and Heskey. Smith and Wright.

The aerial dominance of one is pure manna for the more diminutive other, who uses their pace and killer instinct to buzz around for sustenance.

With this in mind, could a partner up front be just what is needed for Giroud?

Continue reading The Big-Man, Little-Man Combo Is Key For Giroud